Recently, we have seen commercials and media from cable companies blaming the lack of rural broadband on electric utilities, including us, a rural, not-for-profit electric cooperative. Their claim is that electric cooperatives are blocking cable companies from using utility poles for broadband.
But what are those commercials not saying? That cable companies want electric cooperatives and members to foot the bill for broadband deployment.
The current proposal in the NC General Assembly would require co-ops and members to bear the burden of pole replacement make-ready costs. This would reduce cable companies’ costs and increase their profits at our members’ expense, which is especially troubling considering there is more government funding available than ever before to support broadband infrastructure.
Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative (CCEC) has a long history of negotiating with large communication providers who, in the past, have been hesitant to extend internet service into sparsely populated areas where there was questionable economic return.
In 2017, CCEC was forced by the NC Utilities Commission to charge cable companies artificially low pole attachment fees. The cable companies lobbied the Utilities Commission and sued our co-op to get this result. One of the reasons the cable companies wanted this discount was, they said, to make it more economical to get broadband to rural areas.
Since then, these unserved areas have remained the same, unserved. For example, residents of Adams Creek in Craven County—where over 500 cooperative members reside and where adequate fiber sits at the cusp of the area—have solicited time and time again for a provider to extend internet service into that area. CCEC has been a vocal advocate for these members. We have surveyed our pole line, provided all information and cost estimates, but still there has been no movement from communication providers.
Rural North Carolina needs better access to broadband internet; all of us who live here understand that deeply, but we do not support our members paying for what is a business expense of for-profit companies. Not only does this place undue cost on cooperatives members, it also circumvents years of work and legal expense to draft, negotiate and execute CCEC’s current pole attachment agreements that govern make-ready costs. Those agreements should be applied equitability to those making the request, the for-profit communication providers.
Cable companies have ignored rural North Carolina for years while we have been here for generations, always advocating for what is right and fair for our members. The issue of bringing broadband to rural communities in a way that is efficient and affordable is no exception.